Friday, May 04, 2007

Muleteer, Occultist, Whitesmith

For a recent paper, I researched the Bureau of Labor's Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. The government uses the codes to ensure consistent statistical and information gathering.

As part of my research, I looked up the SOC's tortured history, starting from 1940 till the Office of Management and Budget mandated in 2000 that all governmental departments standardize on it.

At the back of a rather dry 1999 document on the code's revision (PDF) I found a simply wonderful two-page list of all occupations listed in the 1850 Census.

The three trades in this post's title come from there, as do these charmers:
  • Philosophical instrument maker
  • Salaeratus maker
  • Shoe-peg makers
  • Chandlers
  • Sawyers
  • Morocco dressers
  • Daguerreotypists
Salaeratus maker? It's explained in a 1999 Voice of America broadcast on the above document. (I only found this VOA page because I searched on "Salaeratus," which had even Google and Wikipedia stumped.) (And now this lowly post will perhaps join it.)

It's a remarkable picture of a vanished land and time, when life was local, rural, and everything of any value had to be made by someone, not imported from offshore. Notice how many occupations end with "makers" and "manufacturers." Notice how few of those jobs make their way to the current SOC headings. We've gained, certainly--less tedious, back-breaking work for a majority, more prosperity--but I can't help feeling something's been lost, too.